Which Holidays Get People Cooking? The Answers Aren't What You Think
When thinking about the top days or seasonal events of the year for food content, we all make assumptions about what should be at the top of that list. Likely Thanksgiving pops into mind first, followed by Christmas or maybe the Fourth of July. We think back to our childhood experiences and recall hot turkey on the table, cookies left out for Santa or the perfectly grilled hot dog topped with mustard.
Our network of nearly thirty million unique monthly users tells us a lot about how people look at recipes, how they shop for food online and how content trends ebb and flow. We know that Sundays, without a doubt, are the top day of the week for recipe traffic and that people this summer are going nutty for lemonade. Which is why, after 2016's Fourth of July came and went with hardly a blip, I wanted to dig in deeper.
I took a look at some major holidays and seasonal food "moments" to determine which ones actually result in more recipe traffic for food bloggers versus presenting the illusion of more traffic. What do I mean by that? Let's get into it.
Note that all of these trends account for a network of recipes trafficked primarily by United States-based readers.
The Fourth of July
Last week's holiday was the impetus for my dive into our data to see what it actually showed us about holiday traffic. And I was surprised by what I found. Almost no perceptible, network-wide spike happened on The Fourth of July in 2016.
The traffic levels were a bit high for a Monday, sure, but no higher than the previous week's traffic levels. Not totally convinced, I looked at 2015's numbers and patterns for the Fourth of July as well.
In 2015, July 4 was indeed the highest traffic day during the month of July. What this chart doesn't show well, however, is that in the weeks leading up to July 4, traffic was pretty similar. While it appears that traffic perhaps climbed up to its July 4 levels in 2015, what actually happened was a dropoff following the holiday which sustained itself through September.
The Lesson: The Fourth of July may be a good traffic day for your food blog, but its passing brings on a summer slump.
Back to School
Curious to know when the summer slump would end, I then scrolled through our 2015 traffic patterns from June through September. And there it was--bam--right in the middle of September, a bump back up to the traffic levels we'd experienced prior to the July Fourth holiday.
This huge boost made me suspicious: did we onboard a huge partner at the beginning of September that maybe I wasn't considering? I looked at our records and found that, yes, a new, big partner cause that blip around August 17th, but no other major changes seemed to cause the surge (nor the preceding slump).
Then it dawned on me: back to school! Labor Day 2015 fell on September 7 with first days of school around the country trickling in during the weeks prior and the week right after. As soon as kids were back in school, it seems, parents had time to return to their Pinterest food porn habits.
The Lesson: Perhaps more than days off from work or holiday traditions, school schedules determine food blog traffic patterns.
I guess no one cooks on Halloween? Exhibit A:
The Lesson: Don't waste your time! If inspiration strikes then sure, do something cute for Halloween. But if you're hoping for a traffic bump, it's not likely.
Yes, TONS of people look at recipes throughout the month of November. The traffic slowly climbs until we reach Thanksgiving day. But then--look at it!--a HUGE crash after the holiday; I suppose everyone's eating leftovers?
The Lesson: Definitely develop Thanksgiving content and get it posted early in the month (or even in October) while people are researching and planning their menus. Do not feel bad if traffic drops in the few days that follow--that's normal!
Christmas and The New Year
The only time my expectations for traffic lined up with what actually occurred in our network was on Christmas. Take a look at that steady climb leading up to a real, undeniable spike. And don't forget about The New Year too. Traffic on January 1 (diet ideas, perhaps?) climbed up to the same levels we saw on Thanksgiving.
The Lesson: Christmas Eve, it turns out, is your real money-maker. Milk this holiday surge for all you possibly can. Traffic levels hit incredible peaks on Christmas Eve Day, then drop, then pop back up on New Year's Day.
The first month of the year is real, smooth sailing. If you want an idea for what you can consider your "norm," look to January for clues. For our blogger network, January trends showed weekly patterns--peaks on Sundays and dips in the middle of the week.
The Lesson: Know what your baseline patterns look like. January is a good place to look for these. January by far was the most stable and consistent month for us in the past year.
Super Bowl & Valentine's Day
And finally, the most surprising stat of them all. After Christmas, the biggest food holiday--BY FAR--is the Super Bowl! Now, I have a lot of theories for this one, but none that I have fully proven with data. That'll have to be a separate blog post. There's also a bit of a bump for Valentine's Day. Take a look at the below:
My hunches for why the Super Bowl is such a huge recipe traffic driver include that people make party food more than heirloom recipe favorites passed down from mom. Similarly, our traffic indicated that many more men viewed recipes on this day than our usual male to female ratio, for what it's worth.
As for Valentine's Day goodies, the recipes that trended during this time were less romantic dinners for two, and more bright pink and red cupcakes for the kids.
The Lesson: February is a time for party food! Fried finger foods for the Super Bowl will get you some traffic on Super Bowl Sunday (though there's way less of a traffic lead up than you see with Christmas) as well cutesy sweets on the 14th.